PM Pointers: Managing a Team Member with a Personal Agenda

Part 4 in our 5-part Managing Needy Team Members series.

As project managers, we often run into team members that require a great deal of attention. In an opening post for this series, we discussed a general approach to dealing with resources that need TLC. This post offers techniques for getting the most output out of folks who see the project as a way to achieve a personal agenda. In one way or another, these team members have no interest in doing what is best for the team, but rather what is best for themselves.

Team Members with Personal Agendas Are Not Trying to Hijack Your Project

The best way to approach team members with a personal agenda is alignment. Naturally, you will not align with them on every aspect, but only on a limited number of critical elements. Alignment means either side may make concessions. Be prepared to cave in if the results justify it. The only way to effectively align with a personal agenda is on a detail level.

Change-Resistors

If you are dealing with a change resistor you will need to make a list of the advantages of the current process, and conversely, disadvantages of the proposed process. After a detailed review, you may actually find a few valid items that need to be accounted for as a part of the project. Accounting for those items will make the change resistor feel heard and appreciated. In return, you will get a greater buy-in and genuine interest in the project.

It’s a fact that the biggest opponents of anything, when converted, make the biggest advocates.

“Job Security” Experts

If you are encountering a job security expert, who spent years building knowledge about a specific domain that no one else knows about, you want to pull them into a new territory. Tell them that the domain they are guarding has an expiration date, which is usually true. To help a job security expert stay current you would help them by switching their responsibility to a more modern domain. At the same time, the responsibility for the current domain would go to another team member or to an external party.

Ladder Climbers

Folks on a fast career path typically want to impress specific people with specific achievements. Ask them to make a list of takeaways from the project that they are going for. Try to list all possible benefits regardless of priority and probability. Chances are, you can help them achieve a healthy number of those goals. Your help in advancing someone’s career will not only help you complete the current project but in the long-term as well.

When you manage to get a team member with a personal agenda to your side, you will typically gain a strong ally. This makes the extra TLC significantly more worthwhile.

On an accounting system implementation, I encountered an A/R manager that couldn’t stop bashing the new application. I asked for his advice. In fact, I asked him to list specific features of the legacy application that were not present in the new one, but should be. He made a list of about a dozen. The team examined the list and we found one specific feature that had been implemented just 3 years prior to our project and resulted in a 20% decrease in open accounts receivable. Not only did we add the feature to the new application, but I praised the team member for bringing it up, which he highly appreciated. Ultimately we turned a resistor into a proponent.

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